Roz Laws talks to up and coming comedian Joe Lycett about cheese and middle-class whimsey.

Do you consider yourself middle class? Well then, what’s your favourite cheese?

Using dairy products as a social indicator is part of the act of rising comedy star Joe Lycett.

In two short years, Joe, from Hall Green in Birmingham, has gone from ‘not very talented’ drama student to an award-winning stand-up comic who makes his living from making people laugh.

Already named Student Comedian of the Year, 21-year-old Joe is now in the running for Best Newcomer in the 2010 Chortle Awards. Previous nominees include the likes of Rhod Gilbert, Jack Whitehall and Sarah Millican.

Joe can hardly believe his luck himself.

“It was two years ago last week when I performed my first comedy act,” he remembers. “It’s all gone a bit mad since then.

“I was taking a drama degree at Manchester University but I discovered I wasn’t very good at acting.

“I took part in a student night at the Manchester Comedy Store and it went down really well. Doing comedy was another way of getting attention. I didn’t think for a moment I could make a living from it, but I became addicted.

“In many ways it’s a lot easier than acting. You don’t have to go to lots of auditions or worry about props and rehearsals.

“I don’t like having to read lines someone else has written or being told where to move – acting is quite restricting that way.

“Then again, being a one-man band means it’s all your responsibility and if it goes wrong, you have no one else to blame or hide behind.

“And, of course, you have to be funny.”

Joe describes his act as “middle-class whimsy”.

“I don’t do one-liners, it’s all very anecdotal and very nicey-nicey. I’m not confrontational and I don’t swear. My philosophy is, if I couldn’t say it in front of my grandmother, I probably shouldn’t say it.

“I don’t do vulgarity, I prefer to talk about nice things.

“I ask the audience to cheer if they think they’re middle class, then ask them what their favourite cheese is. Anything less than Gruyère and they’re just not middle class!”

For five years as a teenager, Joe was involved with the Stage Experience project at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre, giving youngsters a chance to perform on a professional stage.

He had a lead role in Copacabana, but even then his comedy streak was trying to take over.

“I got carried away with doing ad libs. I kept getting told off because the show was getting longer and longer.”

So will he ever go back to acting?

“I doubt it. I recently had an audition for a TV sitcom, the first time I’d tried acting for ages. I was going for the role of a 30-year-old fat man, which I took as a compliment to my acting ability.

“But the audition was a disaster. I said the lines as if I was just reading a book and didn’t get the part, which I took as a compliment to the fact I’m nothing like a 30-year-old fat man.

“You have to remain relentlessly optimistic about these things.”

Joe’s mum Helen is a graphic designer, while his father David is a teacher at The International School in Tile Cross, Birmingham. But Joe feels he may have comedy in his genes, after discovering his great-grandfather was a comedian at the turn of the 20th century,

“My grandmother told me just before she died last year. I wish she’d been able to tell me more about it, it must have been such an unusual thing to do then.

“I am addicted to stand-up. I didn’t have a gig for two weeks over Christmas and I started to go loopy, thinking ‘why aren’t people looking at me?’.

“It is amazing that this is my career now, my family can’t quite believe I make a living out of it.

“Mind you, some weeks I barely scrape by. I pay my rent and have nothing else at all, which is when I have to get creative.

“A good tactic is to steal food from flatmates. If I go out, I just have tap water then take a sip of my mates’ drinks when they’re in the toilet.

“The most I earned was £1,000 when I won the Student Comedian of the Year.

“If I’m very lucky I get £200 for a 20-minute act, but usually it’s £50 here and there.”

Joe often returns to Birmingham but lives in Manchester.

“Birmingham has some good professional comedy clubs like Glee and Highlight, but not many smaller places above pubs. There aren’t enough places for new comics to feed on, but there are a lot in Manchester.

“I’ve done a few gigs in Birmingham, particularly cabaret nights at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath. I adapt my act and talk about the sort of people that frequent Broad Street.

“One of the worst nights I had was at Manchester’s Comedy Store, on a night where the audience ‘gong’ you off if they don’t like you. I’d not intended to perform, but I got very drunk and thought ‘I can do much better than this lot’.

“I said one line, about Madeleine McCann, which I thought was edgy and hilarious but the audience didn’t agree. It was horrific, I just stumbled off and learned never to drink before a show.”

* Joe’s next local gig is at Careys Nightclub & Bar in Coventry on March 3.